My life with Eric and The Animals was about to fall apart. December
of 1967 marked the beginning of the end of my time with the band.
Indeed the final demise of the band was less than two years away, while I
would be part of it for only another seven months.I had started with the band just over a year previously, in November of 1966.While it had not all been sweetness and light, my time with the band had given me a once in a lifetime experience.
And we had achieved a lot.By
the fall of 1967, we had become an excellent band on stage. In my
admittedly biased opinion, one of the best live bands of the time, (A
1990 CD release, “Roadrunners”, culled from hitherto- unknown recordings
of the Animals playing live, bears me out.The
band was tight and polished with an ability to drive and swing that few
rock bands could match in those relatively unsophisticated times)
We were also extremely capable in the recording studio.We had become quite close as friends, with a strong sense of camaraderie.Much
of this camaraderie, no doubt, was due to a lot of dope smoking, plus
the occasional acid trip. Nevertheless, we had been through some
enjoyable months. We were having fun and I was enjoying the best times
of my twenty two years.LA seemed to be the place
where we could relax and make the best music, and that was where we had
been from the beginning of October to the end of November.At the end of November (only a few days before the Ali Akbar Khan concert) we flew back to London.There, everything changed.
Back in the cold and gloom of London, it seemed like someone had thrown a switch, bringing our dark sides to the forefront.We began to argue and bicker.We also started to realize that there was something terribly wrong with the way that money was being handled and disbursed.
When we returned to LA in the
middle of January of 1968, the mood in the band had changed.Instead of community, it began to be every man for himself.By July of that year I was out of the band.
In LA, I discovered that Ravi Shankar had opened a school of Indian music.He himself was rarely there; certainly I never saw him on the premises.But he had a teaching staff and there were ongoing classes.I
took some classes and discovered that I could get around on the sarod
quite well, its fingering being similar to that of the guitar.
traveling schedule with the band, plus the growing political turmoil
therein, made it hard for me to attend classes, so I regretfully dropped
out. Except for buying and listening to the occasional album, I put my Indian music interest in on the shelf.
I was becoming more and more interested in the arrangement and orchestration of Western music.After leaving the Animals, I began to work as a producer and musical arranger in the Hollywood recording studios.It was heady stuff.I was writing music for and directing the best musicians in the world.There
were members of the LA Philharmonic, there were guys who used to play
for Henry Mancini, and there were the guys who were the core of Beach
Boy Brian Wilson’s famous “Wrecking Crew”.Many of them were twice my age.Almost without exception, they were great guys.I had a great time working with them and developed some good friendships, some with men old enough to be my father.
took my musical responsibilities quite seriously and, realizing my own
shortcomings and inexperience, began to study orchestration.My abilities to write and arrange music were growing by leaps and bounds.
But inside, something was terribly wrong.The
responsibilities of being on my own (as opposed to being a band
member), owning a home, being in a steady relationship and generally
trying to be a productive member of society, were cutting into my
spiritual search.In fact, the search was at a standstill.I had become a full on LA studio musician in my behavior and attitudes.There was no time for irresponsibility.There
was always another record date with arrangements to be written and
delivered to my copyist. There were always thousands of dollars on the
line and I was the one most responsible.
I bought a house in Topanga Canyon and settled in LA. I was hooked on California and my privileged lifestyle.
But still, in the back of my mind, there was a nagging voice. What about your spirituality? What about Indian music?
last time I took LSD was in February of 1968. I had just finished
reading Ravi Shankar’s autobiography, which had moved me deeply. I sat
out on the balcony of my Topanga home and cried. When my girlfriend
asked me why I was crying, I told her that I was thinking about all the
Indian musicians I had read about who had dedicated their lives to the
study of spiritual music and wishing I could do the same. I told her I
felt I was wasting my life when I should be devoting my life
spirituality and music.
After the LSD wore off, it was back to the daily petty concerns of normal life.
began to suffer from depression again and now there was nothing that
could blot it out; my desire to take LSD had gone and I was no longer
enjoying smoking marijuana.
May of 1969, I was offered a job with Capitol Records as a staff
producer. Although Capitol had musical giants like The Beach Boys, The
Beatles, The Band and The Steve Miller Band on their roster, they had
acquired them by luck rather than musical or business acumen. Located at
the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street in Hollywood,
Capitol still had the aura of a 50s record company. They were located in
the round Capitol Tower that was supposed to represent a stack of
records and was their corporate logo.
about Capitol was much more set up to handle Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin
and Peggy Lee than the rock bands that were now their bread and butter.
Someone decided that they needed new blood in the A& R department
and they offered me a contract.
I cut a very lucrative deal with them.That was the only redeeming quality about my time with Capitol. Everything else I hated. I hated the endless meetings. I hated the corporate politics. I hated the rules and regulations. Above all, I hated the lack of support that they gave new artists. This
meant that any product that a producer like me put out, regardless of
its artistic merits and the work expended upon it, had to make it on its
own.It was the marketing theory of “let’s throw it up against the wall and see what sticks.” Only
if you were lucky enough to garner some airplay somewhere and get a
regional breakout would you get any support from the company. All
the other A&R people complained bitterly and our meetings
deteriorated into endless bitch sessions. It soon dawned on me that my
new job was just another prison. This was
emphasized by the fact that, even though I hated my job, I now had a
mortgage and bills to pay so did not have the option of quitting. I sank deeper and deeper into despair.I felt panic-stricken, humiliated and so, so empty.
1968 and 69, Los Angeles was beginning to feel like a war zone. After
the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, and the
black riots of 1968 and 1969, the L.A.P.D. would hassle anybody who
looked the slightest bit different. It was a very paranoid environment. And still there was this voice in the back of my head. What about your spirituality? What about Indian music? One day I sat down and I prayed. It was my first experience of surrender. I simply said, “God, I don’t know what to do. Please help me.”
It came to me that, if I expected to be helped, I should give something in return. In 1967, I had learned a meditation from a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda.I
started that meditation and made a commitment that I would do it for
five minutes every morning and five minutes every night. That was it. I
didn’t know what else to do and I had no idea what to expect.
seemed to me that spiritual people should sit on the floor, thus I
stoically assumed a cross-legged position on the carpet in my study.
Since I had never sat on the floor for any length of time since I was in
the Cub Scouts, my knees stuck up at a high angle. I felt very
uncomfortable and rather silly but I kept doing the meditation. I felt
no immediate benefit and I had to keep pushing my unhappiness and
emptiness aside in order to persevere.Although
not keeping count at the time, I later realized that it was after
exactly 40 days of this simple practice that my life changed.
my life I have found that, if I am feeling stuck, frustrated, depressed
or unhappy, it means that my soul is calling for me to move to a higher
level of spiritual practice.
So I take the time to assess my
situation and ask to be shown a path of growth. Generally the next level
of daily practice that I should adopt is revealed to me and, provided I
keep my part of the bargain, after 40 days of practice, my life moves
up to a higher level of awareness and opportunity.
In 1969, I was looking to God for
a miracle that would change my life. And sure enough, it came. Divine Intervention, however, does not always come in a way that one might expect or even feel good about.
On Tuesday, December 15th,
1969, my boss at Capitol Records called me into his office. "Vic," he
said, "I owe you an apology. All the bad things that I said would not
happen if you came to work here have happened. I'm sorry to tell you
we're going to have to let you go. Oh, and by the way, Merry Christmas."
I thought "Merry Christmas to you too, m*#$% f%^$#," but said nothing.
On the way home I was devastated.
How was I going to maintain my lifestyle without my salary from Capitol
Records? And yet, after reaching home, I found a sense of relief
creeping over me. No longer would I have to go and work in this awful
constricting corporate situation. No longer would I have to feel the
constant ache in my cheeks from trying to smile when I was crying
That week the L.A. Free Press
carried an interview with Richard Alpert. He had been one of the
notorious LSD researchers at Harvard with Timothy Leary and had
co-authored The Psychedelic Experience. In the
intervening years he had gone to India, met a Guru and become Baba Ram
Das (later just Ram Das), the first American spiritual teacher of the
Psychedelic Age. He was to give a lecture that Friday at the Beverly
Hills High School. I was fascinated by his story. I also was very hungry
to listen to anyone who had direct experience of Indian mysticism.
When Baba Ram Das spoke, he began
by talking about himself. He told us about his early life, then his LSD
experiences. Finally he began to talk about his experiences in India,
how he met his guru and his spiritual awakening. I was deeply moved and,
at the same time, excited. I began to realize that the spiritual realms
and experiences upon which I had briefly touched with the use of
psychedelics could, just possibly, be available to me all the time. Deep
inside me, I knew there was nothing more in life that I wanted than
The next day, a Saturday, Baba
Ram Das was giving a daylong seminar at someone's home in Beverly Hills.
I went. It was just as inspiring as the previous evening and the energy
went on for the whole day. As I left that seminar, I could see that my
life was about to radically change, even though I had no idea how.I didn’t care.I just wanted to get on with it.
The following day, brimming with
enthusiasm for the principles of self- sacrifice that I knew guided a
spiritual life, I began a three day fast. I also determined that, when I
began eating again, it would be as a vegetarian. There was, however, a
problem. Since it was just before the Yuletide season, I had invited
friends over for Christmas dinner. I had ordered an organic turkey from
the health food store and I had procured several bottles of wine. So I
decided to compromise. On Christmas Day, we partook of a traditional
Christmas dinner. On December 26th,
1969, I literally went "cold turkey". I finished the cold turkey and the
last bottle of wine, then let go that aspect of my life. From now on, I
would be a non-drinking, non-drug taking vegetarian.
Capitol Records had given me some
severance pay and I had a lot of time on my hands.This
afforded me the luxury of being able to pursue my new interests. I
asked myself, "What is it that I want to do most now?” I realized that
what I wanted more than anything else, was to study Indian music. I
bought a Sarod, the Indian instrument popularized in the West by maestro
Ali Akbar Khan, and began to take lessons. I spent my days practicing
music, something that was very familiar to me.
In January of 1970, my girlfriend
had arranged to go and visit her parents in New York and I found myself
alone in the house. On Tuesday, January 22nd, I thought to
myself that it would be nice to start taking some yoga classes to get my
body in shape. I looked in the classified section of the LA Free Press
and noticed that there was an advertisement for a class in the Beverly
Hills area. I saw that, if I rushed right out the door, I could get to
the class just in time.
at the address shown in the Free Press, I found it was a disused
warehouse in Jules Buccieri's furniture store at Robertson and Melrose, I
also found that the ad had been wrong. The class did not start for
another hour. The type of yoga being taught was called Kundalini Yoga.
waited rather apprehensively while the room filled up with a lot of
hippie types. When the room was quite full, a tall Indian in a pink
turban, white sweater and black pants, walked in, sat down on the bench
at the front of the room and said with a thick Indian accent "Tuesday is
a day for hard work and tonight we are going to work very hard."
And we did. I stretched and strained, sweated and groaned until I thought that I might die. As I left, I thought “never again”.Thus I was very surprised when I found myself back there the next morning for the 10am class.
next class was not as hard. When I left I felt an incredible sense of
well being, both in my mind and body. It was like being on drugs but
without having to worry about an impending comedown.
had always sensed that, when I took drugs, I was doing something
invasive to my body. With yoga I felt great; my body felt like it was
being nourished and nurtured.So I kept going to every class, morning and night.
Thursday evening I found that the Indian was not there. A friendly
Jewish fellow with a long ponytail was teaching the class. After the
class we started talking. His name was Richard Lasser and he was
majoring in Russian at UCLA. He told me that he had been taking classes
from Yogi Bhajan (the tall Indian) for about six months and that "the
Yogi", as he was called by his students at that time, wanted all his
students to graduate from being disciples to becoming teachers. He also
mentioned that Yogi Bhajan had established a loose organization (with
non-profit status) that he had entitled 3HO. (The Healthy, Happy, Holy
That night I had dinner with Richard and some of the other students. It was a night of sharing spiritual experiences and joyful laughter.When
I left Richard's apartment, I felt that I belonged in this energy and
with these people. This was something I had never felt before, not with
my family, not with my friends, not with my colleagues. I had no idea
what was going to happen next. All I knew was that I wanted to be a part
of this group, whatever it was. I felt that I had come home.
On the Sunday morning I again
went to class. When the class finished I walked over to collect my
shoes. As I put them on, I found Yogi Bhajan standing there. He looked
at me with a piercing gaze and said "Thank you for coming." I mumbled
something about being quite welcome but I felt overwhelmed by his power
told Richard what had happened. He said that it was very unusual for
“the Yogi” to talk to anyone before they had been coming to class for a
month or more. Richard and I were going off to do some things together
but he told me that he wanted to stop at Yogi Bhajan's house, a few
blocks from the yoga center, to see if there were any errands that
needed to be run. It was my first experience of someone who was planning
to do seva (selfless service0.Richard knocked on the door and the Yogi himself answered it.
was an imposing presence. At six feet four inches with a massive
physical frame, he towered over most people. But the aura surrounding
him was what really grabbed your attention. It
shimmered with power and regal authority. Not at all like the sweet,
surrendering energy of Mother Teresa. I had never experienced a human
being like this.
the moment I walked in the house, I became the main attraction. He
talked directly to me, as if I was the only person on earth, ignoring
everyone else present.He told me that I was an
old soul who had come to Earth to complete my mission. He talked about
how I would devote my life to the path of Truth but it would be very
hard for me. He then asked me if I had any questions.
told him how I wanted to play Indian music on the sarod and how
important it was to me. He said "When you sing, people will come for
thousands of miles to hear you. The dead will rise from their graves
when you sing." I was shocked. My immediate assumption was that Yogi
Bhajan did not speak English well, he had not understood me and that he
had no idea of what a sarod was.
had never entertained the idea of becoming a singer. Ever since that
awful night when I was 14 years old, and through my previous eight years
as a professional musician, I had always shied away from the idea.
He then said "Let me show you where you are coming from, sit down and close your eyes."I
did as he said and immediately sensed a huge energy filling the room.
Richard later told me that Yogi Bhajan was pointing his forefinger at my
could hear celestial choirs singing and my mind and body filled with
bliss. It was an incredible experience, yet in no way unsettling in its
strangeness. Even though I had never experienced anything like it
before, it felt familiar and comforting. After a few minutes, he asked
me if I wanted more. I said yes.
that experience, I was in no doubt that I would devote my life to this
man and his teachings. Later I realized that, at that point, I allowed
him to become the spiritual and temporal father that I’d never had.